Recording Yourself: Why you sound different, and how the pros fix this

Many of you reading this will have likely tried recording your own vocals. You’ll likely have a microphone like the Shure SM58 or Rode M1, or perhaps you have a more typical condenser microphone. Or maybe you’re just recording on your phone and listening back.

Either way, the usual first experience that people have when recording is “do I really sound like that?!

The second set of experiences that people have (once they get over the first reaction) is typically along the lines of “hmmm, getting a good sound is harder than I thought“.

Real world vs Digital world

One of the things that’s odd about recording is that it is taking something that we typically hear naturally in the real world, and translating it to the artifical digital domain – i.e. the computer. Then when we listen back, we listen back via an artificial system of reproduction (speakers).

The way a microphone works is via a thin layer of material (called a diaphragm) that vibrates as it receives sound, and a secondary mechanism coupled therewith turns that diaphragm vibration into an electrical signal that exactly represents the soundwave as it was received at the diaphragm.

Your ear works in much the same way. Our eardrum is that thin layer of material that vibrates as it receives sound, and a secondary mechanism (cochlear) translates that into signals to go to the brain.

The thing that makes the human system different is that there is a brain directly involved to translate and make sense of the signals for us. Here’s how that matters Continue reading “Recording Yourself: Why you sound different, and how the pros fix this”

The Constant Pursuit of Musical Novelty is Eroding Standards

I like whisky. But I didn’t always like whisky. In fact, I thought it tasted pretty damn foul for most of my life. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve got into that whole world.

What’s interesting about whisky, is that it takes YEARS to even get a “first draft”. After getting a first draft, to improve it you need to learn what worked and what didn’t, to identify which elements need tweaking and which need to be kept the same. Each further iteration adds years more to the process.

As such, when you see a successful whisky distillery that has been running for any length of time, there’s often centuries of hidden experience behind even just a single whisky recipe. Established distilleries have often run for hundreds of years, with more modern recipes building on the expertise garnered by the generations who went before.

Much time has been spent on distilling recipes and methods, multiple drafts spanning multiple years, exploring dead-ends only to move on to more successful avenues, etc. All of this, just to produce even one specific whisky.

A proverb worth remembering

There is a proverb that echoes the sentiment behind such a time-spanning endeavour:

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.

With that in mind, consider what has happened to music, art, and everything else over the last few decades. Continue reading “The Constant Pursuit of Musical Novelty is Eroding Standards”

There is no one size fits all vocal warmup routine

If you were to go onto Youtube right now, and search for “vocal warmup routine“, you will find hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of videos.

Many of these will contain similar exercises, but many of them will also contain conflicting advice. Such conflicts won’t be covered in this article.

The top video on Youtube (at time of writing) has racked up 22 million views. This is clearly a topic people want the answers to, and I totally understand this. In truth, I actually use very similar exercises to some of these videos, at least on paper.

So if people want good exercises to warmup their voice, and there’s enough similarity between what I’m doing and what these Youtubers are doing in the videos, why haven’t I put out a video on this?

Philosophically simple, technically more complex

As per the title of today’s article, it’s because there is no one size fits all vocal warmup routine (or vocal practice routine for that matter).

But why?

The problem philosophically is relatively simple: a generalised video does not take into the account the specific individuality and vocal requirements of any given singer. Such a general video also ignores the fundamental learning process that underpins any individual who is looking to acquire a technical skill.

Here’s what needs to happen

To deploy any exercise in someone’s voice, we need the following three elements (at least):

1) Select an appropriate exercise for a given singer, and teach the singer to do it correctly
2) Take that exercise over an appropriate range in their voice for a desired result
3) Develop their ability to have a constructive self-guided practice

Let’s go through each of these to clarify: Continue reading “There is no one size fits all vocal warmup routine”

The Most Insane Teaching Instructions I’ve Ever Heard

Many of my clients have been through numerous coaches/teachers before they end up coming to me. This means I often get at least a little insight into the kinds of things that other voice coaches, singing teachers, speech therapists, etc have asked my clients to do.

Recently, someone reminded me they’d had sessions with another coach. The face of disgust they pulled when they recalled those sessions made me ask them what they’d just remembered. When they told me, I honestly couldn’t believe what they’d been told to do.

This then reminded me of all the insane instructions I’ve heard that other instructors have given over the years. I thought I’d share a few of these (and my horror at such instructions), but more helpfully to discuss why someone might think this, and why such thinking is erroneous or unhelpful when it comes to building your voice.

1. “If you can’t hit the note, just croak it

Continue reading “The Most Insane Teaching Instructions I’ve Ever Heard”

Three (More) Great Books I’d Recommend Reading

A few months ago I recommended five of my favourite books. It was one of my most popular articles, with many emailing to say how helpful they found it. Ergo, I thought it worth recommending a few more. One I’ve read since that post was written, one I’d read many years ago, and another I’ve been revisiting of late.

I’ve given a brief summary of each book to whet your appetite, and also given a short suggestion of who each book may be relevant to. They are all good though, so please do pick up a copy of any/all!

1. The Courage to be Disliked
by Ichiro Kishimi (Author), Fumitake Koga

A musician I’m aware of recommended this book in a talk about his struggles with mental health. It’s an excellent book. Written in the form of a dialogue between a student and a philosopher, it explores the psychology of Alfred Adler. Alder was a contemporary with Freud who took issue with Freud’s approach of laying people’s behaviour wholly at the feet of past experiences, labelled ‘traumas’. Adler felt that this theory that traumas were primarily responsible for how people turned out in their adulthood didn’t hold water, when it was apparent that different people who had similar upbringings or earlier “traumas” could end up living wholly different lives. There must have been something more to all of this than just past experiences being responsible for people’s final behaviours. This is what led Adler to make a split from Freud and his group.

Instead, Adler focused on the idea that past experiences being labelled as trauma/definitive experiences was down to each individual, and the meaning each person assigned to each experience. Those who wanted to wallow in past hardships and construe present hardships as extensions thereof, would do so, but those who wanted to grow and develop would do so in spite of difficult past circumstances. It was ultimately down to the individual to strive towards a constructive goal, rather than find excuses that made them exempt from blame. This in turn leads to Adler’s core philosophy that “all problems are interpersonal relationship problems“.

As this is written in the form of a dialogue, very strong opposing views and very difficult hypotheticals are posed for/against, which makes for a robust exploration of this topic.

Who is this for?
If you’re someone that is often pre-occupied with what others think of them (I know I fall victim to this all too often), or someone who finds themselves justifying present problems as beyond your control and down to someone else/past grievances, I would strongly recommend picking up a copy of this book. I can’t guarantee it will solve any such problems, but I’m confident it can help you cast them in a new light. Continue reading “Three (More) Great Books I’d Recommend Reading”

Sensory Confusion: How it feels, vs how it sounds for singers

To illustrate this point, I want to reference a story I read a few years ago.

Braille readers

Blind people read using Braille – a system of raised dots to indicate letters and words. They do this using the tips of their index, middle and ring fingers. Their brains and bodies become more and more attuned to those tiny surface markings to interpret them as data to form words and meaning. Like normal reading, the brain has to sense individuals letters, then chunk them together to form words, then sentences. The faster one can sense and interpret these markings, the faster one can read.

The plasticity of the brain enables this. What this means is that as the Braille readers feed their brain data from their fingers, that the parts of the brain linked to interpreting sensory experiences from the fingers grows and becomes more developed. The more advanced and experienced the Braille reader, the more developed and complex that region of the brain becomes.

Here’s where it get interesting

Researchers did an experiment on a group of Braille readers, where they essentially poked the ends of the readers index, middle and ring fingers. What they found was this: the Braille readers would not always be able to identify, or even misidentify which finger was being prodded, i.e. you prodded their index finger, but to them it could easily be one of the others. Continue reading “Sensory Confusion: How it feels, vs how it sounds for singers”